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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 10 New Delhi February 23, 2019

Bulandshahr: Unravelling the Anatomy of a Riot

Sunday 24 February 2019

by Ram Puniyani

The scene of violence in the name of emotive issues has been continuously throwing new patterns of instigating and orchestrating violence. In recent times we saw major violence following the demolition of the Babri mosque (1992), Godhra train burning (Gujarat carnage 2002), murder of a Swami (Kandhamal 2008), on the pretext of love-Jihad (Muzaffarnagar 2013) among others. The gross pattern seems to be to spread hatred against sections of society and unleash the hate, which gets converted into violence. In the last couple of years, what has dominated the scene of violence has been the accusations related to slaughter of cows. Beginning with the horrifying murder of Mohammad Akhlaq down to the killing of Junaid, cow-beef has been used as a ‘weapon of hate’. In this very series follows the Bulandshahr killings of two men, one of them being a Hindu police officer.

This tragedy goes on to show the underbelly of communal violence, which in due course brings into its orbit not only the religious minorities but people from the majority religion also. As such the violence does not involve much killing of the majority community, though they also suffer in small numbers. In this case, in Bulandshahr, we see the major victim is not only a Hindu but an officer of the State Police. While full details are yet to come out with SIT probing, whatever can be gleaned from the media reports is frightening enough.

In the beginning of December 2018 a large congregation of Muslims, Ijtema, took place in Bulandshahr. The congregation had participation, by a rough count, of around fifty lakh Muslims. These religious congregations do keep taking place in different parts of the country. Nearly seventy kilometres away from the place of this congregation, in village Siyana of Bulandshahr, this incident took place. It seems someone had thrown the remains of a slaughtered cow in an agricultural field. The villagers noticed the carcass, reported it to the police, which planned to initiate the action as per law. As the carcass was being taken away in a tractor, some 40-50 youth from outside descended on the village and took charge of the tractor. As per some reports, the beef was thrown in the field by those belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Morcha and Bajrang Dal. Reports by some journalists and a video report show that the whole incident was orchestrated by outsiders.

The youth took the tractor to the police station, lodged the FIR and created a ruckus. Yogesh Raj, the local chief of the Bajrang Dal, who lodged the FIR, was booked as the prime accused in the incident. Various versions are in the air. What followed led to the death of Inspector Subodh Singh in a brutal manner. Suresh Chavanke of Sudarshan TV, the Right-wing channel close to the RSS, tried to link up the violence to the Muslims’ Ijtema. As per Chavanke’s tweet the violence was indulged in by the Muslims participating in the Ijtema. This was countered by the police authorities who tweeted that the incident had nothing whatsoever to do with the Ijtema, which was at a place far away and a peaceful event.

Many other theories also started being thrown up. One being that one Jitendra Malik, who is part of the Rashtriya Rifles posted in Kashmir, was present on the spot and the culprit of the violence. His elder brother denied the charge and promised to prove the innocence of his brother. Malik was brought back from his duty in Kashmir, but nothing much seems to have been proven about his complicity. The usual question is: who did it? Before that let’s see the very revealing facts related to the Inspector, SHO, who, as per his sister, was killed in a planned manner. Subodh Singh was the one who had investigated the Mohammad Akhlaq case leading to the arrest of many culprits. It is said that it was he “who always took the right stand especially on Hindu-Muslim issues”. Probably he was not letting the Hindutva groups to have their divisive ways. The local unit of the BJP-related organisations had written to the officials demanding the transfer of Singh. The other highlights related to the incident are mixed and disturbing. One is that many of those who had come to attend the Ijtema were sheltered in the Shiva temple. SHO Singh’s teenager son appealed for peace and harmony in the area. He said: “I would appeal to the entire country, please stop Hindu-Muslim violence. People get violent at the slightest provocation. People should understand and think that they are bound by the law.” In response the DSP, in a moving face-book post, stated: “I salute Abhishek who even after losing his father is not speaking the language of hatred and violence.”

On the other side the Chief Minister of UP, Yogi Adityanath, commented in the aftermath of this tragedy that incidents related to cow slaughter are increasing and need to be curbed. This ‘cow-primacy’ got reflected in the statement of a BJP MP who advised the investigating team to examine whether the SHO came under attack as he failed to check the cow slaughters and cow smuggling! The murder of Singh, a serving police official, is relegated to the second place in the Yogi-BJP scheme of things. These are disturbing signs of times where politics is being dictated by Modi-Yogi, in which emotive issues are taking precedence over human lives, issues that do not disturb them so far as these serve their political agenda of polarisation!

Meanwhile the sense of insecurity is reigning supreme in the village where the incident took place. The villagers, who repeatedly affirmed that their village had braved all the communal incidents like Babri demolition violence, Muzaffarnagar violence etc., are now fearing for their safety, feeling insecure in the places where they have been living in peace for decades.

In the trajectory of patterns of violence, Bulandshahr is yet another pattern of probably planned violence, where the major victim can be from the majority community itself; yet another victim of cow politics!

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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